Inclusive Retention: Applicable Laws & Regulations
Learn about federal laws and regulations that impact employee retention
There are laws and regulations designed specifically to help employees with disabilities keep their jobs. Some employers, like federal agencies and federal contractors, must meet benchmarks for hiring and retaining people with disabilities. All employees need to be able to perform essential job functions at work to remain qualified for the job. Some employees may need a different approach to their work than others, and reasonable accommodations can help employees be effective at work and retain employment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is civil rights legislation that aims to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life, including employment. The ADA prevents discrimination based on disability for private employers and state and local government employers with 15 or more employees. It also applies to employment agencies, labor unions and joint labor management committees, regardless of the number of employees. Title II of the ADA covers public entities’ programs, activities and services. The law prohibits public entities (e.g., state and local governments), regardless of size of workforce, from discriminating against people with disabilities in their employment practices. Thus, all state and local government employers are covered.
At the heart of the ADA’s employment provisions is the concept of reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is considered any modification to the work environment, or the way a job is done, that enables someone with a disability to apply for or perform a job. Reasonable accommodation policies and practices have an impact on your organization’s ability to retain employees with disabilities. For more information about this, visit Accommodations and Retention.
The Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes several sections that impact retention of people with disabilities.
- Section 501, which applies to federal agencies (including the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Smithsonian Institution), prohibits discrimination against job applicants as well as existing employees based on disability. It also requires agencies to take proactive steps, or affirmative action, to employ people with disabilities, including certain targeted disabilities, with specified representation goals. Federal employers must also invite employees to voluntarily self-identify as a person with a disability. The Section 501 Information Center contains a wealth of information about all of the requirements under Section 501.
- Section 503 also prohibits discrimination against job applicants as well as existing employees based on disability, but applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. It also requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ people with disabilities, with specified representation goals. Section 503 is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). OFCCP offers extensive information about these requirements on its Section 503 webpage.
- Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, or by any program or activity conducted by a federal executive agency or the U.S. Postal Service. In addition to protecting people with disabilities who apply to and participate in such programs, Section 504 covers job applicants and employees of the organizations that provide them.
- Section 508 covers information and communications technology. It requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology to be accessible to people with disabilities—including job applicants. While Section 508 only applies to federal agencies, many private employers have adapted its standards as a way to ensure their technology infrastructure—including eRecruiting tools—is accessible.
The President of the United States has the ability to issue Executive Orders (EOs) to manage the operations of the executive branch of government. President Biden released Executive Order 14035 in 2021 to address Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. The EO establishes that the Federal Government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA), and outlines procedures to advance these priorities across the federal workforce. EARN offers a fact sheet and themes document to help federal employers better understand the requirements of EO 14035. Visit EARN’s History of Federal Disability Employment Efforts webpage for an overview of Executive Orders and Management Directives related to federal employment of people with disabilities.
The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) requires employers with federal contracts or subcontracts of $100,000 or more to take affirmative action to employ and advance in specified categories of veterans, advance them in employment, and prohibits discrimination against them. VEVRAA’s categories of protected veterans include disabled veterans. As for retention, employers must adopt benchmarks for employing veterans with disabilities. Like Section 503 of the Rehab Act, OFCCP administers VEVRAA and offers information about it on its VEVRAA webpage.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance. Covered employees may take time off to manage their own serious health condition or that of a family member.
Workers’ compensation programs protect employees who are injured or become disabled because of their job. Most employees in the United States are covered by a workers’ compensation program. Unlike temporary, partial or long-term disability benefits, the intention of workers’ compensation programs is to provide support for employees immediately upon injury. They may cover short-term or long-term absences from work. Civilian employees of the U.S. Government are covered by Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) for injuries and illness sustained while in the performance of duty.